The Mexican Lower House is expected to discuss and vote on a bill this week that decriminalises cannabis, a move that would make the country one of the world’s largest markets for the drug.
Backed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's administration, the bill will mark a major shift in a country plagued by violence as a result of feuding drug cartels.
Two special committees of Mexico’s Lower House of Congress approved a draft bill late on Monday.
Only people 18 years and older, and with a permit, may grow, carry or consume cannabis and its derivatives.
According to the draft, a person may legally be in possession of up to 28 grammes of cannabis intended for their personal consumption, which is equivalent to 28 cigarettes.
Former President Vicente Fox, who is on the board of global medical cannabis company Khiron Life Sciences, told Reuters that the move would help create much-needed jobs creation and economic investment in the country.
Fox said he expects Congress to pass the bill this week.
Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, told NBC News that it will create interesting trade issues.
“Mexico legalising is going to strengthen the push for, if not legalisation, decriminalisation in the US,” he added.
The history of cannabis in Mexico
The Spanish first brought Cannabis to Mexico, in the 16th century, for use as an industrial fibre. In the colonial era, the drug produced from that plant — marihuana or mariguana in Mexican Spanish and marijuana in English — eventually took on the same negative associations that other drugs carried.
Cannabis became a prominent drug in the 19th century, when it started appearing as a recreational substance smoked in cigarettes and overwhelmingly concentrated in some of Mexico’s most marginal environments, including prisons and soldiers’ barracks.
In 1920, the revolutionary federal republic banned marijuana. That law, which barred substances that could “degenerate the race,” has remained in place for over a century now.
In 2009, Mexico legalised possession of small amounts of marijuana and in recent years, urban cannabis businesses have popped up, offering everything from specialty distillates to artisanal edibles.
Some dealers insist that they buy directly from growers—the farm-to-table model—to try to give consumers a cleaner conscience. However, this alternative market is limited and easy to shut down, and cartels still control the cheapest product that can be bought.
Advocates have held out hope for federal legislation that could break the cartels’ grip on the trade.